With Slade Wilson revealing himself in the Queen Mansion, it is only natural to juxtapose a plot with inherent tension with one that is all about the emotional release of battle, the siege of the Amazo. Executive producer Marc Guggenheim described “The Promise” as “designed … to be like a sequel to episode 14(“The Odyssey”) last year, where we flipped the paradigm and spent the majority of our story time on the island with Oliver and Slade.” Like Community and its duology of paint ball themed episodes, Arrow makes an adequate follow up.
Arrow season 2 has done lots and lots of aggressive expansion in terms of the inhabitants of Arrow, suddenly we have the League of Assassins, Task Force X, powers, and a Canary. The series hasn’t however expanded on its secret weapon: action sequences. Now, there is an extremely logical reason for this, bigger set pieces cost more money. Adding more bodies would change how you actually block out and choreograph sequences and Arrow has an excellent stunt coordinators like James Bamford, who maximizes the fact that most of this shows fights take place in warehouse (and there equivalents) already. There would be something off if Arrow were suddenly able to do consistent large set pieces, this show is a scrappy ramshackle piece. Smaller, more personal sequences fit it better on a working theme level.
This isn’t to complain or write off the siege of the Amazon but to contextualize what makes this episode feel rather special. We are given several sequences on the deck of the Amazo and it is filled pirates, Russians, explosions, and red barrels that weren’t exploding(thanks videogames). The camera gets a little shaky, literally and metaphorically, in these moments. The shakes aren’t bad with most of the shots being of the long variety, if you’re going big you might as well ensure the scale cannot be missed. A long distance implies a lack of caring or emotion “The Promise” overcomes this through sheer energy. Slade Wilson is an excellent mustache twirling villain in the present. Five years in the past as he is about to paraglide onto the Amazon he couldn’t help but laugh and smile.
The siege of Amazon goes in close for some nice hand to hand moments. Oliver’s training routine pays off as he manages to take out several guards effectively but without the efficiency of his more hardened self. Slade Wilson is made out to be a terminating killing machine, slicing though the pirates constantly in a flicker of light. His bisected mask made to look even the more fearsome and camp. Both Ollie and Slade down their requisite attire for the mission, echoes of what they are to become. Much of comic mythology is derived from that idea of dress up and clothes making the man, making it an obvious place for Oliver to finally don the mask and act like the hero he wants to be even If he doesn’t know it yet.
All of this action, no matter how well done, would have been meaningless and hollow if it lacked a good emotional foundation. “The Promise” gets at this foundation in two ways. Structurally shifting the island flashbacks to ‘A’ plot position gives more time to set up the eventual siege. This means Sara Lance talking in themes and spelling things out, which sounds a bit worst than it was. It’s also par for the course of Sara’s character on the island. Awkward as that was, episode scribes Jake Coburn & Ben Sokolowski do the leg work. Adding a bit of narrative but artistically pleasing funkiness, the flashbacks even pertain to the dreams of Oliver Queen. Dreaming of Shado in a field (out of MGS 3) wondering why he killed her, a guilty conscious made manifest. Oliver jumps asleep as the Shado of his dreams stabs him viciously, with a couple of single digit frames of Slade doing the same.
After going on break for the Winter Olympics, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD returns with “T.A.H.I.T.I.” and a new slating of marketing that at least visually ties the series into the forthcoming Captain America: The Winter Solider. Other than the visual addition of Cap’s tarnished shield, the main edition is a new tagline, Uprising; adding further convulsion to an already convoluted title. “T.A.H.I.T.I.” also marks the arrival of Agent John Garret, first introduced in the 80’s Elektra run, played by Bill Paxton.
With the break and strong last episode, “Tracks”, SHIELD felt like it had some real momentum going into it. I was actually rather jazzed at watching this episode. “T.A.H.I.T.I.” doesn’t totally squander this momentum; just some of the core issues with this series remain and undercut it.
After a rather forced opening couple of acts on the Bus, our Agents along with Garret and Triplett figure out where it is they really should be taking Skye, the mysterious Guest House. An off the books non-SHIELD affiliated (or Hydra, AIM, or any other Marvel Super Group of Evil if you were wondering) facility. The Guest House provided a nice bottle to put the rest of the episode in. One of the consistent problems has been manufacturing convincing locations, with the Guest House expectations are understandably low and they are met rather well. We are shown bigish dark corridors, some hallways, doors with that normal military font, all the makings of your typical non-descript base. There is a lot of mileage made In such a limited set.
Bill Paxton’s John Garret is a much appreciated, if brief, addition to the show. Simply put, he is cool. A bit gruff and older, but there’s a personality to him. Paxton’s energy made Brett Daltons more limited range seem bigger with him around. Not much is really told to us about Garret beyond him being Ward’s old S.O. and knowing Coulson back in the day. Paxton’s performance however gives the character a bit of an edge, he wants to takedown or kill Ian Quinn just as much if not more so than Coulson. The way he leaps over a table, combat rolls, and shoots one of the guards in the stomach and then quips about “no hard feelings Bill” is old school badassery. By the end of the episode, he had more personality than most of the cast.